Swallow this Pill. Live Longer. Really?
New diabetes medicine could 'enhance' your years, but there's a catch (or two, or three)
Discover your purpose in life. Do yoga. Sleep eight hours every night. Wear a Fitbit. Go vegan. Drink green tea. Eat organic. Take Metformin.
Wait, what’s that last suggestion, you ask?
A common diabetes drug right now is causing quite a stir — not in the diabetes arena, but in the anti-aging world. Metformin, a common, generic, front-line type 2 diabetes drug that may be repurposed as an anti-aging treatment. Touted to extend our lifespan beyond 120 years, it promises not only a longer life but a healthier one.
The idea may seem far-fetched. I’ve yet to see anyone on Metformin that’s put a brake on aging (for the record, lab results are promising on roundworms and rats).
But with U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, Metformin research is set to go into human trials, advancing from rodents and things that creep in the night, to 70- and 80-year-olds looking for the same biological status as people 20 years their junior.
Given the choice, would you take an age-stretching drug to tally your years beyond a century? As a nurse, I can say that my first words (and that of most of my colleagues) would be a definitive, “No!”
I know the dream you see: Grandma and Grandpa living independently in a mortgage-free home, baking bread, watching "The Price is Right," crocheting your Christmas slippers and eating Progresso soup with those gross little meatballs out of a can. But that’s not reality.
The average cost of assisted living is $3,600 a month and $7,750 for a private room in a nursing facility, according to Forbes. Who can afford this for an extra 40 years?
Aging may just be another diagnosis needing to be “treated” with pharmaceuticals. Metformin has the first crack at it with its proven track record as a safe drug for diabetics.
"It’ll be interesting to see how people with type 2 diabetes, who are eating healthier and exercising more, receive additional benefits from Metformin,” says Susan Weiner, 2015 AADE Diabetes Educator of the Year and author of "The Complete Diabetes Organizer: Your Guide to a Less Stressful and More Manageable Diabetes Life."
Weiner doesn’t exactly expect Metformin to improve aging on its own, stressing that healthier behaviors are key elements for a healthy life. “Metformin may benefit many patients, but it's important to remember that no pill can take the place of healthy lifestyle changes,” she states.
Every medication also has inherent risks. (You’re familiar, I’m sure, with the lengthy drug sheet your pharmacist gives you with your prescription.)
The truth is, there’s no hands-off approach to health; we’re the active players and pills don’t magically fix the problems. With diabetes, for instance, when blood sugars improve on Metformin, there’s still a metabolic problem at hand. It’s not gone; it’s being treated.
So we have to live smart. Diet, exercise and mindfulness offer a three-pronged approach that works, according to Laura Cipullo, a registered dietitian and author of "The Diabetes Comfort Food Diet and Women’s Health Body Clock Diet."
“Health is an active pursuit – it’s learning to be mindful and to create balance,” says Cipullo. Everything matters, whether it's stress at work or over-exercising; we feel the effects.
If I’m looking at 20 extra years of dodging throw rugs and grooming myself with a magnifying glass – you can have them. We can only hope that the extension of life benefits are partnered by health and happiness.
Perhaps, though, it won't be all that bad for those open to stretching their lifespans as long as possible: If swallowing a “magic pill” is the future of engineered heath, it may soon be something we have as a choice to consider.
Jewels Doskicz is an Arizona-based registered nurse with 20 years of experience. She’s a passionate patient advocate and health consultant, and has lived with Type 1 diabetes since she was 13.